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William Morris and the Idea of Community

William Morris and the Idea of Community: Romance, History and Propaganda, 1880–1914

Anna Vaninskaya
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    William Morris and the Idea of Community
    Book Description:

    The great polymath William Morris and his contemporaries and followers - from H. Rider Haggard to H. G. Wells - are the focus of this study. Anna Vaninskaya draws widely on primary sources to explore the many ways Victorians and Edwardians talked about community and modernity._x000B__x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4372-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. vi-vii)
    Julian Wolfreys
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Every period is characterised by certain widespread idées fixes, by favoured models or paradigms that migrate from field to field, sparking the most varied debates in the process. Eighteenth-century stadial theories of development took on a new life in nineteenth-century evolutionism, concepts from biology structured thinking in anthropology, sociology and philosophy, categories from philology entered historiography and the comparative study of myth and religion. And inseparable from all of these was the Victorian obsession with setting up contrasts between different types of social organisation. Writers returned again and again to the dichotomous nature of social types: organic vs mechanical, barbarian...

  6. Part I Romance

    • Chapter 1 The Romance Revival
      (pp. 11-33)

      ‘It is not needful, nor indeed is it possible, to define Romance,’ Sir Walter Raleigh, first Oxford Professor of English Literature, told his Princeton audience in 1915, and immediately went on to contradict himself. He discussed the origins and development of romance, ‘a perennial form of modern literature’ recurring in every period, and most notably in the ‘romance revival’ of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which rediscovered the medieval as the Renaissance had rediscovered the classical. The romance revival with which this book deals happened much closer to Raleigh’s own time, in the 1880s and 90s. It was...

    • Chapter 2 The Paradoxes of Mr Morris
      (pp. 34-72)

      When William Morris’s late-Victorian contemporaries referred to romance in general (as opposed to the New Romance in particular) they could have in mind any number of things, from Chaucer and the Icelandic sagas, to the historical novels of Scott and Dumas, to E. A. Abbott’s Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884). But despite this generic diversity, most uses of the term activated one of two sets of antithetical associations. Either romance was a universal and popular creation like the old literary monuments of pre-modern communities, or it was a mass genre that was recognisably the product of a commercial...

  7. Part II History

    • Chapter 3 The Dark Ages
      (pp. 75-114)

      The individual-centred narratives of the New Romance may have been products in the capitalist marketplace, but with a little interdisciplinary help from history and anthropology they could also provide a picture of the communal ideal, or better yet, approximate in their form a communal literary creation. But though familiarity with those disciplines was a mark of the New Romancers as a group, Morris was virtually alone in adapting it to a collectivist agenda. At the time he wrote his late prose romances Morris was a socialist, and though he operated in the same intellectual context as his literary peers, his...

    • Chapter 4 The Middle Ages
      (pp. 115-134)

      Morris’s belief that ‘the ideas of tribal communism’ and the ‘customary law of the Germanic tribes’ furnished one stream in the emerging feudal system (the other stream was ‘Roman individualism and bureaucracy’) was a historiographical commonplace among Teutonists and socialists alike. The roots of medieval forms of communal association were to be found in primitive Germanic and Anglo-Saxon institutions whose democratic and egalitarian spirit had persisted despite overwhelming social pressures, and in the Middle Ages ‘the real popular history of Europe [was] comprised in that of the guilds’ (Morris 1969, 166, 176; cf. 1910–15, 22: 382–3; 1890, 244)....

  8. Part III Propaganda

    • Chapter 5 Socialist Hybrids
      (pp. 137-174)

      We have seen how Teutonic community yielded place to medieval fellowship, which was to await its own resurrection in the socialist Commonwealth. But meanwhile, what of the present? The present was capitalist to be sure, but did no counterpart to the communities of the past and the future exist in fin de siècle Britain? Did the seeds of community not slumber in the womb of commercial civilisation? The answer was yes on both counts: as the plaque in the Hammersmith Guesthouse in Nowhere made plain, the present also contained its share of the ‘spirit of association’, whose highest expression was...

    • Chapter 6 Education and Association
      (pp. 175-203)

      It has long been known that ‘preaching the socialist word’ (Samuel 1980, 48) was an activity with many of the characteristics of a revivalist religious movement. Socialist street-corner orators, competing with the Salvation Army for the attention of the working class, resembled nothing so much as missionaries fishing for the souls of the unbelievers. They also had a lot to say about Christianity as such: Dennis Hird, first principal of Ruskin College, churned out books like The Believing Bishop and Jesus the Socialist. The penny fortnightly ‘Pass On Pamphlets’ and the ‘Clarion Pamphlets’ featured titles about Christianity and socialism from...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 204-220)
  10. Index
    (pp. 221-232)